Hillsborough County School Board not ready to succumb to pressure on Islamic speakers

The workshop began with 16-year-old Steinbrenner High sophomore Austin Ransdell testifying about Shibly's presentation. The teen said Shibly had spoken, among other things, about Muslims' pilgrimage to Mecca, as well as basic principles of Islam. Ransdell said after the lecture that there was a question-and-answer session, during which students asked Shibly about his beard and the hat he wore.

School Board Chair Candy Olson asked him directly if he felt any religious indoctrination had taken place.

"No, ma'am," the youngster replied. He said he never even mentioned the appearance to his mother that evening because he didn't think it was that important, and only did so after complaints by Caton and Kemple were featured in local television newscasts.

Stacy White said he had read in newspaper accounts that Shibly had talked about stereotypes and prejudice against Muslims. Ransdell said that was accurate, that Shibly said there was a perpetuation in the culture of the notion that all Muslims are terrorists. Ransdell said Shibly had said that was false, "and that most of them don't feel that way."

Olson interjected. "He didn't say all of them?" referring to the line about Muslims not being terrorists.

"He said there will be radicals. It's the same way with other religions," Ransdell replied, not indicating if that was Shibly's or his own conclusion.

White said he took issue with Shibly referring to anti-Muslim stereotypes, and that the only other interaction that Ransdell's class had had with a different religion happened outside the classroom on a field trip. White said he wanted to be assured that no proselytizing was taking place in the classroom.

Later White added that CAIR had a "cloud of suspicion" lingering over it. The group for many years was considered the biggest mainstream Muslim organization in the U.S., and enjoyed positive relations with elected officials and the FBI. But that perception changed to some extent in 2008, when officials with the FBI said they were no longer "an appropriate liaison partner" because of evidence linking the organization and its founders to Hamas. The FBI's decision was controversial, and the group still maintains positive relations with many elected officials.

With the exception of White, the rest of the board agreed that the rules already in place to deal with guest speakers were sufficient, and board member April Griffin complained that the whole exercise had been a waste of time.

Saying she was resentful about the whole discussion, Griffin said shae had been "absolutely insulted over the conversations taking place over the last 12 months, insults comparing people to child molesters and KKK that just crossed a line that I thought was disgusting."

For good measure Griffin blasted Caton and Kemple as well, and said she didn't care if that offended anybody. "If I catch some flak for this, so be it. I've caught it in the past and it's fine."

Olson said she has received a lot of emails about the controversy. Not so much about CAIR per se, she said, as about Sharia law and "all kinds of things that had nothing to do with CAIR."

She then distributed a brief policy sheet about guest speakers that she was hoping to the board could sign off on, but School Board attorney Tom Gonzalez nixed that, saying that a public hearing would have to be set before the amended policies could be established.

No doubt that hearing will provide plenty of opportunity for members of the public's anti-Islamic statements to flourish.

  • April Griffin

With the exception of their youngest member, the Hillsborough County School Board on Friday afternoon showed that they don't have a problem with their current policy regarding guest speakers.

A controversy has been provoked by some of the most notorious conservatives in the county, who have a problem with the board because the leader of the local branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Hassan Shibly, was invited to speak at Steinbrenner High School class in world history last year.

Shibly's association with CAIR has stoked the anti-Islamic passions of a bloc of Hillsborough residents, led by conservative activists David Caton and Terry Kemple.

Their opposition forced the board on Friday afternoon to hold a workshop on the district's policy regarding guest speakers in the classroom. The entire board, with the exception of Stacy White, agreed that nothing needed to be changed in the current policy.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.